People buy the darnedest things for Christmas, as a recent Weird S.B. column on pink tinsel designer trees and customized postage stamps for Goths, among other things, can attest. And the scary part isn’t that these items are manufactured – it’s that they wouldn’t be, unless someone actually wanted to buy them.
Not just that, but the tackier the gift or decor, frequently the higher the price tag. This is not the year for extravagance, as one glance at the NYSE can tell you.
So what to do? In search of the perfect holiday accoutrements on a budget, I headed to local nonprofit Art From Scrap. The establishment aims to recycle and reuse items that would otherwise be thrown away, and also provides art education for youngsters. I’d heard little about it, except for a vague rumor that it was a great place to go for supplies for kids’ art projects, and in the end it surpassed my expectations.
For starters, the first thing to greet me as I walked up to the door was a collectible plate featuring the Ascension of St. Raphael. (It was love at first sight, incidentally; it’s clearly visible in the photo of my shopping basket.)
From there, the shop just got more bizarre. Actually, it’s a little like a farmers market, only featuring odd, dusty junk rather than produce; the store’s stocks are constantly changing as one or another item is donated and others sold. The only difference is, it’s pretty easy to know when avocados are going to be in season, but the season for donating an entire jumbo bucket of tiny rubber ducks – enough to keep Ernie singing in the bath for years – is a little less predictable.
Fabric, bulk paper, metal belt buckles, glass vials and bottles, tiles, scraps of metal and glass, jewelry, paintings, and Christmas ornaments – at least those are predictably seasonal – fill the shelves and bins; the place is a delightful hodgepodge of the useful, the potentially useful, and the just plain confusing, such as the heaping barrels of McConnell’s ice cream container lids. If anyone out there has been harboring a secret dream of building a sculpture out of lids, now’s the time.
Buried amongst the truly do-it-yourself oddities, however, there are more standard items – all for a ridiculously low price. Vases, baskets, and the above-mentioned jewelry are all immediately useful, without any creativity required. There are even a few books and movies, although the selection is distinctly eclectic.
After a wondering browse through all that Art From Scrap has to offer, I finally got out of there with a modest haul of Christmas treasure: the St. Raphael plate, which was too excellent to pass up, and a vase, which are both gifts on their own. And then I bought a few glass tiles and some felt, which will hopefully combine into coasters with a little glue and ingenuity, and a lone earring, the beads from which will grace some project or other. The total bill? About $12. The experience? Priceless.
Art From Scrap is located at 302 E. Cota St. in Santa Barbara. For more information on the store or on its other programs, call 884-0459 or visit artfromscrap.org.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Art From Scrap is affiliated with the Community Environmental Council. It is not and has not been since mid-2005.